Wednesday in Las Vegas: Being Online – It Shouldn’t Have To Hurt

I put together some thoughts for the informal session I’ll be holding at SAP’s technology conference, SAP TechEd, in Las Vegas next week.

These are (necessarily?) unfinished thoughts, mostly because no matter how many stories I hear (and this year with the release of It Gets Better: SAP Employees I’ve been privileged to far more than I could ever have imagined) I still don’t have an answer.  But as technologists, especially at a company that purports to help “make the world run better,” we all must be part of the mandate to find a solution.

Originally I titled this session “Being Online (as a minority)…” – but then came Marilyn Pratt’s excellent blog about the concept of bullying in our own backyards, in a business context.  Let me be clear I don’t think any of us are immune to the pain of the public flaunting of whatever are our soft spots.  Yet these spots are exactly our most precious, and our futures, collectively, are lost without them. In this sense, we are all minorities — online or off.  Our differences are what matter — I believe — for the future of the globe.

If you are in Las Vegas next week I’d love it if you could join me.  If not, I’d love to hear from you here or in person.  Also, continued thanks to @karoli, @godisdead, and many others for actively engaging with me on Twitter and beyond in these topics.  Thank you.

5 unstoppable trends from the Web 2.0 Summit stage, personified

The theme of this year’s Web 2.0 Summit 2011 officially was “The Data Frame.” But take it from me — the unofficially real themes are these five unstoppable trends that, were they a person (taking a cue from Genevieve Bell’s talk “The secret life of data” — “Who is data and if it were a person what would it be like?”) would look exactly like: “You, as a Platform, Friending Your Social Car and its Music, and Thereby Completely Transforming How We Buy Things.” I will explain … in this fully subjective list of five of the top tech trends that are unstoppable disruptions at the Web 2.0 Summit 2011.

facebook business

facebook business by Sean MacEntee, on Flickr

FACEBOOK

Trend One.  It’s nothing new.  But Facebook continues to be a top trend at the Web 2.0 Summit. Chatter about being “friends” with Facebook was in the background of many of the sessions – and *everybody* – except maybe Google – is friends with Facebook (and now Facebook doesn’t even have to friend you back).  This is not a surprise — as KPCB’s Mary Meeker put it in her always fabulous Internet Trends report, “There are as many people using social networking sites now as there were Internet users in 2006.” From what I could tell from my seat in the third row back at the Palace Hotel, at least in the US, Facebook is still winning the social game — despite Google taking pains to talk about how great Google+ is doing and even trotting Sergey Brin out in a surprise appearance together with Vic Gundotra to say so.

The balance of power in social seems to be between the “caution to the wind” nature of existing social tell-alls, and Google — which is taking a specifically cautious approach to social — contending that this is what people want. Google is not only trying to win on these more conservative terms (“There’s a reason why every thought in your head does not come out of your mouth,” said Vic Gundotra, and maintaining somewhat vehemently that Google is “taking a cautious approach to releasing an API”) but also could be preparing to bet the farm on tying Google’s offerings together with Google+, at least by later in the year, if I caught the hints.

But the Facebook party is full-swing. Everyone from Microsoft (“Facebook defines the word social and we work with them closely — combined with Bing” — Steve Ballmer) to eBay (“We’re bringing the open graph into the eBay experience, and bring the eBay experience into the Facebook environment” — John Donahoe) to Salesforce (“Facebook is eating the Web. People are spending much more time on Facebook than on the Internet.  It’s a social revolution” — Marc Benioff) to beyond reports that Facebook is hot.

For Facebook’s part, Bret Taylor, Chief Technology Officer, didn’t just rest there: “Google+ to me is validating to what we at Facebook have convinced the world of: Products are better when they’re social,” he said.

It continues to be a virtual Facebook lovefest.

Saving the world one email at a time

Saving the world one email at a time by Ryan Vaarsi, on Flickr

PERSON AS PLATFORM

But “the problem is that my data is somewhere else…” was a common refrain during the data frame discussions, and Facebook and Google got no free pass here.

“When are you guys and Google gonna get over it and start sharing,” sparred John Battelle to Bret Taylor, to audience applause. “Why can’t I use Facebook Connect to populate my circles or lists? Isn’t that data that is ours and should be simple to move?”  Although Battelle meant this as a serious question, there was no serious response to be heard. The fact is, data — our data, data about us and from us — is still what’s worth the bank to social companies.

Many speakers however echoed a fresh refrain about data and your personal identity — and whether your personal data belongs to you or at a minimum can be portable to whatever (social) network you want.  Chris Poole of 4chan/Canvas kicked off this identity crisis with an excellent talk, concluding that as far as online identity goes, “Facebook & Google do it wrong; Twitter does it better; I want to think about a world that does it right.”

Beyond straight social networking technology, personal identity took a stunning turn with Anne Wojcicki’s talk about 23andMe — the “retail DNA testing service providing information and tools for consumers to learn about and explore their DNA.” 23andMe straddles biotech and Web 2.0 with the powers of a huge genetic dataset that can, in combination with its growing passionate community, go beyond straight ancestry queries to help identify individuals that have variants and prevent disease or identify genes that look like modifiers – just for a couple of examples. “The community has been so successful that in such a short time we found something that could be a modifier that leads to a druggable target,” said Wojcicki.

One big question this begs is whose data is this genetic information? Is this owned by the pharmaceutical companies? The community itself? Individuals – in so far as you “own” pieces of yourself?

It was Mitchell Baker (Mozilla Foundation) that took the next step that started to put a finger on the actual idea of person as platform:

We create data online but we have little control. We can turn privacy up and down but that’s it. We have essentially giant data factories — it is at heart an industrial era process. The core process of my data footprint lives as part of the data factory’s process. The customization all lives within a single model. Let’s think differently about data for a moment – what could data be? In that world, I am the platform for my data, and you are the platform for your data.

Baker’s bottom line: “If I become the platform, that allows the big data providers to continue to operate at scale (provide experiences we like with customization at edges but not core) and allows economic generation.”

Do we have this yet? “We don’t have all this infrastructure today but at Mozilla we’re building blocks of where I can be the center of my life.” Brilliant future, with Baker as our guide and person at the center.

Buy More Stuff, Black Friday 2009

Buy More Stuff, Black Friday 2009 by Michael Holden, on Flickr

HOW WE BUY

We’re still buying.  People can log on to 23andme.com and start exploring their DNA today, for example. We keep buying more and more stuff — but the message was clear at the Summit: the way we buy is undergoing massive disruption.  Analogous to what was happening outside a few blocks away with the Occupy Wall Street movement hitting San Francisco streets with #OccupySF, and referenced obliquely by Benioff as the “Corporate Spring,” I think it’s the disruption of the way we buy, right down to the very the payment itself.

During the conference, John Battelle made sure to ask most speakers what they thought of the Occupy movement. For their part, Visa president John Partridge and American Express group president Dan Schulman echoed that there’s “a concern for what’s transpired around the world economically… and significant pent-up anger about how did we end up in this situation” — but seemed eager to allocate blame towards the federal government or elsewhere for the debt crisis, rather than, of course, looking inward. And to John Battelle’s question whether Visa and AMEX are afraid of eBay now that merchants, frustrated with transaction fees, are is implementing direct payments, we of course heard non-answers.

But there were dramatic backdrops to that perspective, with not only eBay (and the demonstrations themselves), but with  Alex Rampell’s TrialPay — which makes the excellent point that there is so much to be gained from the data in online payments that it makes no sense whatsoever to charge consumers a transaction fee just to pay. “At TrialPay, we think payments should be free” — because the underlying data that happens in a transaction is worth more, is the disruptive point behind the service.

It makes it look like credit card companies, despite their protesting otherwise, have to be worried about going the way of the record industry.

Mary Meeker also echoed an impression of Occupy that was equally affirming yet implicated:

I think people are angry — everybody’s angry and deserves to be angry. Finger-pointing is not good. I look at it in a holistic way. Over last 40 years, government has been pretty loose with spending and interest rates have been at low-level, so people were looking for places to invest and went to houses. Credit was easy.  Government sets up a situation where it’s easy to borrow. Wall Street was giving instruments to trade and they traded it like crazy.    … The way out? We all have a problem and we all have to sacrifice.

(Spending five minutes a day on (the hugely hyped) One Kings Lane five days a week, as Meeker admitted to doing, seems a bit like a strange sacrifice.)

If you are making sacrifices, you can look forward to what can be known in the future as “Web 3.0” — and we don’t mean the Semantic Web.   As Tim O’Reilly said in the conference introduction, “Now we know what Web 3 will be — Web 3 will be whatever pulls us out of the economy now” (since Web 2.0 is what pulled us out before).

Tenha medo

Tenha medo by jampa, on Flickr

SOUND

This leads me to two more fairly unconventional top tech trends to personify. Did you know Sound is the Next Big Thing? “Sound is going to be bigger than video. Record is bigger than QWERTY,” said Mary Meeker, quoting Alexander Ljung from SoundCloud, and then she rattled off a number of sound technologies from bluetooth devices, headsets, SoundCloud, Spotify (“which changed way I listen to music”), connected car audio, sound recognition — all ready for and undergoing massive disruption.

Both Pandora and Spotify were there to speak at the Summit, though “Pandora doesn’t compete with Spotify,” Tim Westergren insisted, “It competes with radio — and radio is where people just want to turn it on and play.”

Sound will be big not only on our devices but in our cars.  Says Westergren, “One half of radio listening happens in the car. The smartphone is your modem, bringing it into car. The car hijacks controls of Pandora into the dashboard.”

Driving into the Andes

Driving into the Andes by Stuck in Customs, on Flickr

CARS

Which leads me to the last big trend to notice.  Cars — clean fuel cars, electric cars, social cars, apps for cars, connected cars — Google cars.  Cars are big.

On the apps side, from Waze — with which 7 million users in Israel beat traffic — to Pandora to many other apps, lots of lonely commuters driving solo in cars aren’t so much a plague for sustainability, but create in fact a huge whitespace.

Part of the reason cars are such a rich whitespace for applications right now is because of this Data Frame. We’re realizing that there is much data to be harvested from cars themselves in the Big Data Frame view.  From David Hornik at August Capital:

We figured out about six years ago there lots of systems creating data exhaust. If we harness it, that’s big value… Cars are reporting a lot of things — from how fast the car is going, to the temperature outside (is the road about to ice over?), to exactly where they go (so maps can be way more accurate), to whether the windshield wipers are on – are they high or low? This allows our cars of the future to say “here’s the right driving route for you today based on all this factual data.”

It seems to me that one of the biggest future disruptors of the Data Frame just might be the coming of broadband in cars.

On the side of the cars as platforms themselves, we see a trend towards both social cars — as Marc Benioff wants a car he can friend — to electric vehicles with ventures such as Fisker, Tesla, and GE building factories here in the US.

As if that’s not enough going on, Sergey Brin said Google is building an “autonomous car” – a self-driving car that he says will be cool. “There is a tremendous opportunity to improve the world with advanced research projects like this,” said Sir Google.

This led Battelle to say: “I’m going to start a conference about cars.”  I believe it, too. And if he does, I hope to be there to write way too much about it yet again.

Maybe I’ll ride there in my all-electric Tesla while listening to Pandora, connecting with friends online, and talking with my car (let’s call her “Sira”), about the latest deals on One Kings Lane.  Or maybe, like the fact that we predicted the flying car but not the Internet, the future will look a lot different than any of us know now.

Because trends may be unstoppable, but data is feral, says Genevieve Bell. “Data keeps it real — physical objects resist being digitized. There’s something about data that will resist being incessantly digitized.”

The wildcard is the person in the platform.

This Week in Video and Politics

I’ve been working on an internal video sharing platform at work for over a year, and now everything from music to politics to diversity to news to family and more directly seems to relate to video sharing platforms.

This week, two videos in particular have caught my interest at the intersection of Video and Politics. Let’s start with Charlie Crist:

A colleague passed along the news story behind this to me: Crist, Byrne settle lawsuit over campaign song.

We know a bit about the potential issues of music copyright infringement through our work on our video project, so it’s surprising that this video was ever made. Charlie Crist should have known better when he used the Talking Heads’ song Road To Nowhere in his campaign ad, but in the realities of political campaigning he (or likely his campaign) could well have realized a “cease and desist” order might not have even taken effect until the campaign was long over.  Seems anything goes in the fast lawless heat of political campaigns.

On the other hand, Prop 8 proponents are targeting Judge Vaughn Walker over his public use of videotapes from the trial in the long long journey of Prop 8 through the courts. Seems back on February 18, at an event on courts and new media in Arizona, Judge Walker delivered a session called Shooting the Messenger: How Cameras in the Courtroom Got a Bad Wrap, and during that session he showed pieces of the videotaped trial, including testimony from a Prop 8 proponent.  C-SPAN was there to record it, which amounted essentially to “broadcasting the testimony on TV,” which is of course what the Prop 8  folks never wanted in the first place.  Since a stern motion about this apparent “illegal” release of videotape was delivered today, you should watch it there while you can (I can’t get a version with embed strings but will come back and embed if I find one).

The Ninth Circuit Court later had no problem showing the Prop 8 trial live on C-SPAN. You can watch it in its entirety to this day:

Beyond Walker’s district court however there are no live witnesses to testify. All records of people’s motivations are preserved back in the district court.

For the moment let’s ignore the the obvious question “What do Prop 8 proponents continue to want to hide?” I used to think that The Law was one of the next biggest areas of disruption in the “Web 2.0″ space. Now that I’m involved in a video project, naturally I think video is the current huge disruption in politics.

Of course — none of these things are new, but whereas Law seems to be purposefully designed to be slow in a fast-media world, Politics is far from it.  A quick campaign ad released the day before an election can change its course.  Thankfully, checks and balances are however still in tact. A targeted attack on a meticulously prepared, thoroughly researched and fairly tried case (or the relevance of the case’s judge’s sexuality) will amount to nothing except passing fancy in the “court of public opinion.”

Video however? Video can reveal to anyone who cares to see the real motivations behind Prop 8 as revealed in the courtroom from its proponents under testimony, and you can try to pull it down, but the record is cast. The Internet will continue to remember. And we’re here to see it.

Tomorrow’s Game-Changers Today at Web 2.0 Expo

Good morning @w2e - thanks for Massive Attack - Paradise Circus! I love you! #w2e What this year’s Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco noticably lacked in sponsors, exhibitors, and schwag, it more than made up for in smarts. Today was the last day of the show, and I’m away with my mind packed with thoughts from the six stunning keynotes.

Tim O’Reilly was in typical fine Tim O’Reilly form, equating the danger of vendor lock-in in today’s tech world with the perils of Wall Street lock-in. As the full realization of the Internet as operating system begins to play out on the mobile device stage, he warns both us and vendors that “the choices you make can lock you into one future or another,” and also, “if you invent for the world that exists now, you are behind the curve.” Not exactly naming the implicit battling warlords of the show (Apple and Adobe), he reminded us of the danger when, just like on Wall Street, vendors “trade for their own account against developers.” His bottom line, as always: “When you create more value than you capture, you do create more value for yourself. Gain strength working together.”

Ex-Flickrers Stewart Butterfield and Cal Henderson were up next in fine geeky form to introduce their new “massively-multiplayer game” called Glitch. Since “Game Neverending” “failed” (morphed into Flickr), as Stewart said, their new game is “bound to succeed.” They talked a lot about their Web technology, which among other things relies on generating code via small Web applications that write JavaScript. I’m not exactly sure but I think given their history, there’s bound to be something massively gamechanging hiding in this technology itself. Watch this space: http://www.glitch.com.

Bit.ly scientist Hilary Mason demonstrated, in her talk called A Data-driven Look at the Real-time Web, how bit.ly continues to impress upon us that we really had no idea how much value URL shorteners could create. She had two product announcements from bit.ly:

1 — bit.ly fugu – Search your history and create your own personal analytics around your data

2 — http://bitly.tv — “What the world is watching now” — which looks like an awesome realtime video aggregator (because really, together with TED’s great Open TV announcement and SlideShare’s new support for video making it the single place to gather all your business content, the Expo was all about video this year).

Then Jeff Pierce from IBM Research took the stage to remind us that mobile email use differs from desktop email use, and that we need to rethink mobile email clients.

Next up was Jared Friedman of Scribd, who passionately fanned the Apple-Flash fire in announcing that Scribd is bailing entirely on Flash and “betting the company” on HTML5. “Why do you need a special application just to read a document?” said Friedman.  “Text is like the glue that holds the Web together — you can’t just live without it. And now with HTML5 you don’t have to.”  According to Friedman, HTML5 is nothing short of the open Web standard that finally makes it possible to achieve Scribd’s simple vision: to make it really easy for people to publish whatever they’ve written on the Web.

Finally for the keynotes at the Web 2.0 Expo, the very smart Steve Blank, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Stanford and Berkeley, entertained us with some perspective from history in diving into four stories about key players in the history of the tech sector.  By then, my mind had hit saturation, but I’m fairly sure these are all lessons to bear in mind as we all watch how today’s technology games play out in the future.

TED at the Web 2.0 Expo: “A platform for spreading ideas”

Interesting keynote from TED's June Cohen on viral spread of TED talks via video #w2eJune Cohen’s Web 2.0 Expo talk — Ideas Worth Spreading: TED’s Transition from Conference to Platform — just ended and it was so incredible I have to immediately commit these thoughts to a post.

TED has realized its incredible value not only as a conference but as a platform.  Largely through capturing videos of their incredible sessions and then making them available worldwide for free viewing afterwards, they’ve been able to harness the power of an amazing viral spread of enthusiasm.

Cohen used the example of Hans Rosling’s incredible talk jettisoning him into unlikely-internet-stardom, so from a content standpoint TED has a goldmine — and they want to share it.  This is where the technological and philosophical elements come in.

Technologically, they facilitate this worldwide viral spread in part by making sure the videos are subtitled into multiple languages.  Not only are the videos subtitled, but the full transcripts are available. One excellent feature Cohen pointed out was that you can click a word in the transcript and the video automatically scrolls to that point.

And if technology and awesome content weren’t enough, TED is pursuing a fully open philosophy.  “In pursuing the strategies of openness, all of the unintended consequences have been explosively positive,” says Cohen, while announcing TED Open TV Project — a network of partners that can use TED talks for free and build broadcasts around them.  The bottom line for TED?  “TED has evolved from a conference to a media company to a platform for spreading ideas.”

Definitely staying tuned to — and rewatching — this one.

Facebook, Privacy, and Logan’s Run

Logan Look! The Crystal! (courtesy http://www.crazy4cinema.com/)

Logan Look! The Crystal! (courtesy http://www.crazy4cinema.com/)

Facebook has been rolling out its yet-another-“why hello there, new privacy” settings to you and to me in various alerts and yellow dialog boxes over the last week, providing me the chance to once again wonder whether I like this constant opportunity to reappraise what I share with whom and when.

As often occurs to me when I’m thinking of gardens and walls like these, I think of Logan’s Run. As the Old Man says:

You know, they’ve each got three names. Yes. The naming of cats is a difficult matter, It’s just not one of your holiday games; You may think at first that I am mad as a hatter, When I tell you that each cat’s got three different names. See, they got their ordinary name and then they got their fancy name. And that makes two names, doesn’t it? And now it’s got a third name. Can either of you two guess what that third name is? Come on! Above and beyond, there’s one name that’s left over, and this is the name you never will guess. The name that no human research can discover, but the cat itself knows, and never will confess.

(Abridged from The Naming of Cats by T.S. Eliot)

It’s true. Like everybody, I have many faces. The Moya Watson you read here is usually carefully — sometimes even thoughtfully — crafted. I guess you could say this is my “fancy name.” (Though if you look to my earlier writings, they’re a lot more internal-monologue — imported from the nascent days of Blogger.)

Whereas, the moyalynne on Twitter is probably my “ordinary name.” This is my every-day “I’d rather be skiing than going to work” or “My daughter just said the most amazing thing” or “I just spilled my coffee”-silverware — and it’s published, for everyone, to see. It’s easy. Just like that.

AND THEN there’s Facebook. The Moya Watson on Facebook — like many — opens up a bit more in moments and images of herself and her family (usually ironically finding more nurture for this openness within the walled gardens of this closed environment). But she does this with people she knows, whereas with Twitter, she gets to meet people she never before knew.

Well, it was a somewhat easy distinction. Facebook, in starting to poke holes in that T.S.-Eliot-like interface, is drawing into a bigger Web of confusion. And the more we can tweak more of exactly who sees what and where (if we can fathom the Privacy Settings UI), the more the “Moya Watson of Facebook” finds she becomes an enigma.

It’s constantly strange to me when the freedom to just be who you are increases exponentially with more layers of protection. While no “social network” yet exists for the me inside my head, the name only I know and shall never confess, if it escaped it would probably — and then in that act itself — resemble little of me anyway.

At the present, I simply close those yellow alert boxes and find it’s too much worry trying to remain consistent and definitely too alienating for my psyche to have “the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload.”  I’m finding I worry less and less about when all these people converge, and simply just exist. Maybe even (gasp) not post.  It’s the  “Look at your palm! The Crystal! It’s clear!” moment.

Logan, look! Look at your palm. The crystal. It’s clear … We’re free! It must be

Sanctuary!

Outside?

Exposed?

And yet, I post.